When living outside the elite world of blue chip magnets like Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke, schools hoping to build national title contenders must rely on more than handpicking McDonald's All-Americans.
In the case of Cincinnati, the key to ascending from one scholarship player to the verge of three consecutive NCAA tournaments revolves around recruiting to a specific profile. For Mick Cronin, that means finding players owning the intangible of toughness.
The only thing more difficult than defining toughness would be finding it.
Books have been written searching for the answers. This may not be the most talented player on the court, but will be the one who relentlessly fights when a deficit grows. This may be from refusing to give in to size disadvantages or quickness deficiencies. This may be from never allowing an injury to provide an excuse.
No player in the Mick Cronin Era more defines the intangible at the core of Cronin's rebuilding profile more than JaQuon Parker.
"What happens at this level, it becomes hard to do the things you did in high school," Cronin said. "You got to have a toughness about you. You can win games with JaQuon Parker because he can get it done against any opponent. He can raise his level of play, his focus, his toughness and when it gets tough you can count on him."
One final time Saturday, the fans at Fifth Third Arena will count on him as the Bearcats take on USF on Senior Day. That means a list of statistics and numbers will be wheeled out in an attempt to put into words what Parker meant to the basketball program.
He's averaging 11.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this season. He's contributed 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds each of the past two seasons. He stands 6-foot-4 but tied for the team lead in offensive rebounds (62) despite giving half a foot to most big men in the lane.
Those numbers sound great, but don't tell the Parker story. Turn on the film of Cincinnati against Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Watch Parker grab 11 rebounds, five offensive, over the top of an FSU front line standing 6-10 across the board. The extra possessions he added in a defensive slugfest as physical as any in the tournament showed Parker's immeasurable value.
That wasn't the first time he'd found away to pull off the improbable to alter the outcome of a game. Saturday won't be the last.
"There's two types of players: guys that help you win games and guys that don't," Cronin said. "Guys that help you win games they can do it in a multitude of ways. But if you can't get stuff done that's hard to get done, you are not going to make it as a player."
Parker almost didn't. A conversation about his options - including transferring -- came after a disappointing sophomore season. Fittingly, as times got tough, Parker rose above. Challenged by Cronin to improve, Parker became the difference as the team was able to play a four-guard offense without being bludgeoned on the glass because he could battle anyone on the interior.
Over four years he's played four positions and if they needed him to play center he'd happily step in and make it all five spots. Cronin constantly compliments Parker's conscientious nature and relentless desire to execute his teachings. That can be viewed as a blessing and a curse at times as his unselfishness could inhibit his natural ability to rack up points. Following an urge from Cronin to pick up scoring slack down the stretch he's averaged 13 points per game over the last six.
Again, as he's escorted to center court before Saturday's game, reciting those numbers won't tell the story. For all those who spent four years looking on at Fifth Third, they won't need to hear them.
"It will be kind of bittersweet," Parker said of his expectations for Saturday, "but at the end of the day I will feel OK because I gave my all while I was here."
Nobody can deny that. Toughness may be hard to define, but easy to recognize in motion. It looks exactly like JaQuon Parker.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or your own thoughts on Parker to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
My friend and yours, New Media and Broadcasting Director Tom Gelehrter returns to his regular spot on the podcast this week as we recap all the behind-the-scenes from the trip to Louisville, rank who we think would be the best first-round matchup for the Big East tournament, swap stories about seniors Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker as well as break down the newly-released football schedule.
Of course, we devolve into other topics such as cookie attendants, the likely current condition of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Tommy uses his power to crush a social-media trend.
As always, follow all the video work of Tommy and the team right here at GoBearcats.com including updates from spring football, basketball media availabilities and every other sport at UC.
Remember to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes! Everyone is doing it. Just follow this link here and the new episodes will come directly to your iTunes account or podcasting application on your mobile device of choice. Just open up the link, View in iTunes and click subscribe.
When Cashmere Wright signed to play at Cincinnati in the class of 2008, he became one of most highly considered prospects of the Mick Cronin era. Depending upon the service, he ranked somewhere around the top 100 and among the top 20 point guards coming out that year. He took a chance on a UC program he believed could turn the corner on his watch.
Five years later, he concludes one of the more productive careers in recent memory for a point guard at UC with he hopes three consecutive trips to The Dance and proved to be one of the top recruits among his class. How close to the top was he? Because us media types love to poke into these types of lists I did some research to break down the rankings.
Let's take a look at the top 20 point guard rankings from Scout.com, plus the best of the rest of the three-star or higher recruits from his draft class and see how Cashmere Wright's career stacked up (Hint: Very well).
2008 Rank/Player/School (Stars): Career breakdown
1. Brandon Jennings, Europe (5): Never played a minute of college basketball, went to Europe then the NBA and stars for the Bucks
2. Kemba Walker, UConn (5): Big East title, national title, Charlotte Bobcats. You know the story.
3. Jerime Anderson, UCLA (4): Never topped 8.8. points in a season, dramatically underachieved.
4. Larry Drew II, UNC/UCLA (4): Struggled in two years at UNC, transferred while ripping Heels, avg 7.3 pts/7.8 assts for Bruins
5. DeAndre Liggins, UK (4): Mediocre player for UK, never averaged better than 8.6 points or 2.8 assists.
6. Andre Young, Clemson (4): Solid, consistent four-year career. 1,223 points, 342 assists, 184 steals. Had one tourney win.
7. Korie Lucious, MSU/ISU (4): Flamed out at Michigan State before transferring to Iowa State. OK there, averaging 10.1/5.6 assists
8. Damier Pitts, Marshall (4): Great for the Herd. 1,551 points, 517 assists, 101 steals. However, never made Big Dance.
9. Andrew Steele, Alabama (4): Bust. Never topped 6.6 points or 2.7 assists for Tide
10. Courtney Fortson, Arkansas (4): Two great years, went pro (16.0/5.1 assists/5.4 rebs). Hogs under .500 both years.
11. Bud Mackey, Nowhere (3): Never made it to college, ran into big problems with law.
13. Demetri Goodson, Gonzaga (3): Quit basketball to pursue college football at Baylor
14. Jio Fontain, USC (3): Transferred to USC two years and averaging 9.5 points and 5.2 assists this year.
15. Jordan Theodore, Seton Hall (3): Great career, 1,371 points, 541 assists, stellar senior year. But: zero NCAA trips
16. Tu Holloway, Xavier (3): You know the story: 1,833 points, 473 assists, Sweet 16 runs, did it all for X.
17. Dash Harris, Texas A&M (3): Never better than 6 points and 4.2 assists
18. Tray Woodall, Pitt (3). Similar productivity to Cash. 1,059 points, 572 assists, 115 steals. Longtime starter on good teams.
19. Paul McCoy, SMU/SMC (3): Bolted SMU for St. Mary's and flaming out there. Only 12 points in 47 min this year.
20. Kevin Dillard, SIU/UD (3): Productive at both (878 points last two years at UD).
BEST OF OTHERS
21. Mark Lyons, X/Arizona (3): Again, you know the story. Great player, but major chemistry issues at X.
25. Erving Walker, Florida (3): Killed it for UF. 1,777 points, 547 assists, 159 steals. Tourney runs.
26. Darryl Bryant, WVU (3): Solid contributor, scorer, but nearly one turnover for every assist.
30. Jordan Taylor, Wisky (3): His junior year in contention for NPOY -- 1,533 points, 464 assists, 159 steals (Huge #s for UW)
44. Isaiah Thomas, Washington (3): Stellar three years before going pro -- 1,721 points, 415 assists, 122 steals.
If you are weighing best contributions and production for the schools they committed to (eliminating transfers), the bucket would trim down to these 12: .
Kemba Walker, Andre Young, Damier Pitts, Courtney Fortson, Cashmere Wright, Jordan Theodore, Tu Holloway, Tray Woodall, Erving Walker, Darryl Bryant, Jordan Taylor, Isaiah Thomas.
Now, you have to eliminate those that didn't experience postseason success. College basketball is all about March and March is all about guards. If you didn't win there, you didn't win. That eliminates these three:
Damier Pitts (no tourney), Courtney Fortson (under .500 both years) and Jordan Theodore (no tourney).
That leaves these as the final nine. Up for debate how they'd rank, but mine looks something like this with Cash in a debate for the top five in his class -- tightly bunched with Holloway and Woodall -- when you weigh numbers, team success and tournament success:
Moral of the story -- it's easy to swing and miss in recruiting. Just look at that top 20 . Cashmere Wright not only didn't miss, but turned into one of the top 10 most productive careers nationally for his school of all those point guards in his class.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or your own memories of Cashmere Wright to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
So why would Eddie Gran - one of Florida State's top
assistant coaches and one of the nation's best recruiters - leave such a
storied program to join Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati?
"He was the best man at my wedding," said Gran with
"I knew I had a chance to hire him because nobody
knows him as well as I do," said Tuberville.
The two coaches met in 1989 when Tuberville was a
defensive coach at the University of Miami and Gran was a graduate assistant at
East Carolina under defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano.
"We were at a coaching convention in San Francisco
and Coach Tuberville was getting ready to go ski," Gran told me."They had just won the national championship
at Miami and Coach Pagano introduced me to him.I met him and shook his hand and he said, 'Be there on March the 10th.'That was the beginning."
"I raised Eddie from a pup," said Tuberville."I've seen him grow up from a young man that
wanted to coach to becoming one of the better ones in the country.I'm proud to be his friend."
When Tuberville got his first head coaching job at
Ole Miss, he hired Gran to be his running backs coach.After four years there, it was on to Auburn
where they coached together for another 10 seasons.
"He taught me what work ethic was, he taught me that
technique and fundamentals are the things that win games, and you have to get
kids that are smart and willing to work hard," said Gran."If you get that combination and have a great
work ethic you have a chance.And he
taught me to make sure that you treat people the way you want to be
treated.It's not that hard."
Now Tuberville is giving his long-time assistant his
first opportunity to be an offensive coordinator.
"To be a coordinator has always been a dream of
mine," said Gran.
"I've watched him grow and work at it and it's hard
to become a coordinator when you're the running backs coach," Tuberville told
me."I've always told him that you have
to know more than just the running backs.So over the last six or seven years, he's really made himself learn the
quarterback position, the offensive line position, and all he needed was
somebody to give him a chance.I know
what he can do."
Tuberville's confidence in Gran's ability to make the
step to coordinator was evident in the makeup of Cincinnati's offensive
"I let him hire his coaches," said Tuberville."I interviewed them too, but I said, 'You
know these guys...you know what you want to do.You pick 'em out and we'll sit down and interview as many as we
can.'He did a good job and they're working
well together.This is all new for him,
but he's excited.
"I told him that the number one thing that he had to
do was hire a good quarterback coach and you've got to lean on him.Darin Hinshaw (former QB coach at Tennessee)
is a good guy and he works well with Eddie and I think it's going to be a good
"He allowed me to hire a staff that I think is as good
as any in the country," said Gran."It's
a great unit and we're all on the same page."
In addition to coordinating Cincinnati's offense, Gran
will continue to recruit in South Florida.
"I'm in my 28th season and I have not had
another recruiting area - ever - at any school," said Gran."There are high school head coaches in South
Florida now that I recruited when they were players.
"The coaches here will all have a Cincinnati area -
all nine of us will have 10 schools in this area.Ohio is where we are going first.But everybody will also go out into other
areas, and for me, that will be South Florida."
"I made him stay in South Florida all of his life
and he's developed a lot of relationships," said Tuberville."That goes a long way in recruiting.Eddie has the personality where he can sell,
and recruiting is nothing but selling yourself, your school, and your football
team.He's earned a lot of respect from
high school coaches because when he takes a player, he takes care of them.He makes sure they get an education number
one, treats them fair, and those coaches in South Florida understand that.It's made him one of the best recruiters that
I've ever been around."
Gran is also a man of faith whose life was changed
when the third of his four daughters was born in 1999.
"She had a rare brain disease and was given between
two and four weeks to live, and she lived almost six years," said Gran."It made me a better father, it made me a
better husband, and it made me a better coach.I really understood where my priorities were.She gave me and my family the greatest gift
that a man could ever have:We all know
where we're going when this life ends.We're very blessed for that."
"I remember getting that call from him three or four
days after she was born," said Tuberville."He said, 'I don't know what's going on, but she's not responding.'I tell you, he and his wife Rosemary were two
tough troopers - It's awfully tough to lose a child.All of the players there at Auburn rallied
around him and I think the kids learned a lot from it."
Eddie and his wife started a charity called The
Sydney Gran Foundation to support children's hospitals and other families whose
children are facing serious illness.
"We would like to raise somewhere between 60 and 80
thousand dollars because that would get us up to $500,000 dollars and then it
would be endowed forever," said Gran."Sometime
here, I think we'll have another fundraiser to try to help out the foundation."
But for now, Gran is busy getting to know his
players...and happy to be reunited with his old boss.
"I was away from Coach Tuberville for four years,
and to get back together with him is just fantastic," said Gran.
"He has a lot of enthusiasm and works well with
kids," said Tuberville."He's going to
make a great head coach.He'll be a head
coach in a few years and I think this is the next step.He's interviewed for a lot of head coaching
jobs, but he's been turned down because he's never made his own calls.Well, now he gets that chance.Let's see what he can do."
The Big East and UC released their football schedule this afternoon. In case you haven't seen it yet, here's the breakdown:
Sat. Aug. 31: PURDUE
Sat. Sept. 7: at Illinois
Sat. Sept. 14: NORTHWESTERN STATE (La.)
Sat. Sept. 21: at Miami (Ohio)
Sat. Oct. 5: at South Florida
Fri. Oct. 11: TEMPLE (ESPN/ESPN2)
Sat. Oct. 19: CONNECTICUT
Wed. Oct. 30: at Memphis (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Sat. Nov. 9: SMU
Sat. Nov. 16: at Rutgers
Sat. Nov. 23: at Houston
Thu. Dec. 5: LOUISVILLE (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Three observations regarding the schedule:
1) Obviously, a wide variety of days of the week for the game. Luckily no Tuesday games, so #MACtion still has that market cornered. UC will play a game on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday this year. Of course, last year they played on each of those days except for the rare Wednesday game.
It's rare even within the Big East this year, UC at Memphis is the only Wednesday game for a Big East team all year. While far from ideal, it's actually not a bad deal because it comes around a bye week, so Tommy Tuberville will have a week-and-a-half to prepare for both Memphis and the next week at home against SMU.
2) He'll also have two weeks to prepare for what could be the game of the year in the Big East, hosting Louisville on Thursday to close the regular season. Three of the last four years the Big East title has come down to a game the final week of the season and there's a chance this could be the latest incarnation.
Louisville will be the unanimous favorite to win the league, but a UC team returning its quarterback, all five starters on the offensive line and playmaker Ralph David Abernathy IV shouldn't be far behind.
Plus, UC-Louisville in what could be the final Keg Of Nails game for a while, will be the best rivalry games this conference owns next season. Understand, there's a reason the conference put the KON in that slot.
3) I'd argue the four toughest games of the season come at the beginning and end of the season. As was already know, the first two weeks of non-conference play were going to be more difficult. Starting with a B1G doubleheader home against Purdue and at Illinois.
Of course, Illinois was 2-10 last season and didn't beat a single BCS conference team. Their only wins came against Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. They nearly beat Purdue, who finished 6-7 overall and 3-5 in conference.
Two close the season, games against the conference's top two teams last year, Rutgers and Louisville, sandwich a trip to Houston. Those should be the two most anticipated games of the conference season. That leaves a very winnable seven-game stretch in the middle of the season where UC could make a name for themselves with an early B1G sweep.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or your own schedule observations to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Officially a snow day on UC campus. Which will likely be used as an excuse to ... sled. Where are some of the best sledding spots in Cincinnati. I know the few that were up in my neck of the woods growing up. The most frightening sled hill I've ever encountered is the driving range at Beckett Ridge Golf Course. Anybody whose ever been there knows what I'm talking about.
It's about 200/250 yards straight down and pile of discarded young sledders awaiting at the bottom. We used to need a pickup truck at the bottom of the hill everyone would hop in after they went down because climbing back up felt like Everest. There may have been a base camp of 10-year-olds building a fire at the midway point.
Where did you guys go? Or are you strictly awkwardly constructed snowman in the front yard types? I hold readers of this blog to a higher standard. Let's see some creativity out there today.
Let's eat ...
--- Much talk about the Big East jackpot UC fell into. The exact numbers have been reported as anywhere from 15-30 million dollars UC alone will receive from the Catholic 7 separation fee.
Racking up exit fees, separation fees and buyouts isn't exactly a sustainable business model, but they are certainly starting to add up.
Not an easy task. He's spending these 15 days finding out what exactly everyone is capable of. Then they'll evaluate and make decisions. No job is safe, no player is necessarily locked to a certain position.
This is Gran's first offensive coordinator job and he feels especially close to Tommy Tuberville. They've spent almost two decades together. Gran was a grad assistant under TommyT and claims he taught him how to be a coach. Gran was running backs coach with the group that had Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Brandon Jacobs and Kenny Irons.
"I don't know how he got by without me the last four years," Gran joked.
--- Love that Jordan Luallen is now working in a fullback/versatile back role. Add it to the list: LB, QB, WR, FB. These are all positions he's spent extended time working at in three years here. Feel like Jordan's got at least three more positions in him this year. Maybe TE, DE, safety. I bet he can long-snap the heck out of that thing.
--- Interesting quote from Anthony McClung when I asked him about the difference between TommyT and Butch Jones. The two couldn't be on more opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the head coach's role in conducting a practice.
The constant browbeating subsided, replaced by much more teaching with Tuberville allowing players to make mistakes, worrying about correcting them in the film room.
"Coach Jones was kind of a rowdy guy he tried to get involved with everything," McClung said. "Not saying coach Tuberville is not involved he's just kind of the quiet type. He sets the tone. Everything is business. We are here to work, get the job done. We are kind of used to just going and going nonstop. Now they are teaching us. They taught us a lot. I am just kind of feeding off that."
--- I mentioned Greg Blair slimming down last week and here's a story on him by Andrea Adelson. As she rightly points out, if he played that well last year overweight, imagine what he could do at 25 pounds lighter.
Went through the topic of middle linebacker weight while covering the Bengals and Rey Maualuga last year. He slimmed down midseason to around 240. That's become more typical MLB weight these days with less focus on absorbing blocks and more on moving in space against all these passing offenses. Thinking this should help Blair immensely, especially when trying to show off for the next level.
--- In case you didn't know, Senior Night on Saturday at 4 p.m. against USF. JaQuon Parker, Cashmere Wright, Cheikh Mbodj and Alex Eppensteiner will honored. Plenty more on those four coming later this week on the blog. For that, UC is running a special ticket deal of four tickets for $44 if you are interested.
--- Joe Lunardi officially moved Providence (17-12) into the bubble conversation after their win over Seton Hall last night. This is how far UC is from the bubble, folks. Kadeem Batts has become a manimal for them, though. He had 27 and 12 for them last night. They've won seven of eight, the only loss being at Syracuse.
Nobody wants to see them in the first round at MSG.
He'll go down next to Gary Trent as the greatest OU player of all-time.
--- Complete disrespectful, gutter move by Sir Dominic Pointer of St. John's, who ruined Jack Cooley's senior moment by throwing a haymaker during the final minutes of a blowout defeat against Notre Dame. Here's the video.
--- Anybody whose ever been lost inside an Ikea wouldn't laugh at the idea of an Ikea hotel. Although, it's not what we are talking about. They are getting together with Marriott to start a budget hotel chain. I bet it will take forever to build one.
CINCINNATI -- Upon arriving at UC on Dec. 28, new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran had exactly 63 days to find and retain as many recruits as possible, implement a new offense and begin organizing, evaluating personnel for spring football.
All this while moving to a new city, new job, new life. Yeah, enjoy that.
With files upon files of video offering looks at the current collection of returning players in Bearcats uniforms at his disposal, Gran could have spent the majority of his time clicking through game after game after game of footage to asses his talent.
Instead, he only glossed over it.
"For me, I wasn't going to assume anything," Gran said. "I wanted to make sure I see it with my own eyes and go from there. I didn't want to have a preconceived notion because somebody said this guy can't play. That's not what this is about right now."
Right now, Gran's plan revolves around finding which personnel pieces from Butch Jones' spread puzzle fit into this pro style with multiple sets concept. That means considering any player an option, not only at their position, but any other position on the field. When instituting a new style of play, the slate must be completely clean and the mind wide open.
"We got to do the puzzle," said Gran, a 26-year veteran of coaching who spent the last three years heading running backs and special teams at Florida State. "That's why we got coaches."
That's why QB recruit Patrick Coyne now lines up at fullback as does Jordan Luallen, who could possibly play every position on the football field by the time his career is over. Brendon Kay stands under center consistently for the first time since high school, defenders are moving to offense, running backs spread out to receivers.
Tendy college spread and gimmicks, even those which filtered into NFL playbooks, aren't necessarily a part of this scheme. Still, the correlation between this offense and those run in the league sparks excitement in players hoping to end up there.
"The routes we run, the same plays is like the NFL," WR Anthony McClung said. "We watch film of the NFL and we are running the same, exact routes. We try to perfect that to help us for the next level."
The system change and evaluation will take time. The only rule in this transition is to throw all rules, limitations and previous accomplishments out the window.
As much as the 7.6 yards per offensive touch for Ralph David Abernathy IV or 10 touchdowns to two interceptions for Kay left a lasting impression on fans, they mean far less in the eyes of the new coaching staff. Because a player thrived in the spread of Jones and Mike Bajakian does not mean they'll fit into the Tommy Tuberville version.
"It's just like coming from high school again," Abernathy said. "You are starting with a clean slate. You have to rebuild your reputation. Have to show these coaches what you can do because the old coaching staff is gone. You are starting from ground zero and you have to prove yourself all over again."
These 15 practices essentially act as a month-long tryout. Show what you got and then the coaches gather the information to construct a plan for the season. Gran's looking for athleticism, technique and toughness. The difficulty in that comes with sifting through the learning curve of a new offense to find whose shining despite the information overload of new terminology and concepts.
Tuberville understands the difficulty, more specifically on the reactive defensive side of the ball to play all out when still processing information. He plans to scale back scrimmages to a base number of plays so the offensive players can feel free to show off their skills.
"There's a lot of guys that really won't show their potential this spring because they are going to be thinking so much," Tuberville said. "Football is all about reaction, doing things instinctively."
Simplicity works for scrimmages, but regular practices will involve piling on information.
"There's two ways to go about that, you either throw it all up on there and see what sticks," Gran said. "About the third or fourth day there is going to be an overload. It will slow down, you just have to get through that third or fourth day then we will come back and start re-installing from the beginning. Then we will start to see what we can do."
For now, however, nobody knows quite what that will be. But they are learning, one of 15 practices at a time.
I want to hear from you! Shoot me any questions, comments or successful triple-reverse-flea-flicker-throwback plays you'd like me to pitch to coach Gran to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
This is the full-length version of my interview with Munchie Legaux that i used in a short video about the opening of practice last Friday.
As has been well documented, Munchie got a haircut in the offseason. He's also back competing for the quarterback position with Brendon Kay, Bennie Coney and Trenton Norvell for now (Jordan Luallen and Patrick Coyne have moved to fullback).
You can't deny what Brendon Kay did with his opportunity, but Legaux was 6-2 as a starter and likely still has some plays left in him.
Not much good came out of UC's 67-51 loss to No. 8 Louisville on Monday, but the most efficient offensive night since a knee injury for Cashmere Wright could mean he's beginning to turn the corner just in time for the postseason.
LOUISVILLE -- Cashmere Wright may be 178 pounds while holding two bowling balls all while serving as a walking, talking commercial for athletic training, but night after night he takes a bantam-weight body into the heavyweight division of Big East basketball.
He's done so for four years and suffered every injury imaginable along the way. None has proven more difficult to heal than his broken shot over the last 10 games.
Even in the dark shadows of a 16-point defeat at Louisville (25-5, 13-4) Monday, a silver lining poked through in the form of his most effective, efficient offensive performance since that dreadful day in Chicago.
His first shot of the night, buried from the top of the key. He quickly followed with another. The excitable Yum! Center silenced. Perhaps, many Bearcats fans did as well, not wanting to talk, move or change any luck leading to signs of life from the season's most confounding development.
Only, as always lives in the footnotes of Wright's frustrating senior year, success seems to arrive hand-in-hand with pain. On this night, it was Wright popping his shoulder out and needing to return it to the rightful socket at halftime.
Cronin estimated that's the sixth time he's dislocated his shoulder this season. Six.
"Just something you deal with," Wright said. "After the season I will get it taken care of but right now I don't have time so you just keep pushing."
He pushed Saturday, but Cronin admitted he wasn't the same after haltime. Although, even through the pain he also wasn't the same as he's been the last month. He was definitively better.
After hitting a silky jumper over a Louisville defender midway through the second half, he swung a low fist pump and focused clap. Two fast-break jumpers in rhythm later and Wright resembled a December version of himself.
He finished 6 of 11 for 15 points, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Not only was this the second-most points he's scored since the injury but far and away his best shooting night. He hasn't shot better than 35 percent from the field since hurting his knee and not better than 33 percent from deep. Remarkable, considering he lingered around 45 percent from downtown leading up to that moment.
Entering a March where his turnaround will be more vital than any other variable for the Bearcats (20-10, 8-9), this could have been an encouraging sign on a not-so-encouraging evening.
"We lost, that's the only thing that mattered," Wright said. "My shot is coming on, but everybody kept saying keep shooting. It's all about confidence and doing what your teammates ask you. Just getting more comfortable. Legs starting to feel better, moving around and the injury was starting to feel better."
Of course, with one healing injury comes another. As if a certain degree of difficulty always must exist.
"If he can stay healthy, I got confidence in him," Cronin said.
Wright admitted last week his health continues to improve and the confidence his knee will respond the way he'd like it to reached levels not seen since the DePaul game.
The final hurdle for him, he explained, would be finding a way to put consecutive quality halves together. Spurts of success showed up over the frustrating journey back to normal. They nearly always be quickly replaced by another disappointing drought.
Even through the pain of his shoulder injury, he managed to achieve his goal of stringing together a full game. Certainly, he'd love to see his zero assists and three turnovers switch places, but he was far from the lone culprit in a game where 21 UC turnovers held as the only stat truly worth mentioning in Cronin's postgame media gaggle.
Perhaps, that's all most Bearcats players, coaches and fans will take out of the final true Big Monday game ever. Or perhaps, as he walked toward team bus with ice wrapped around his shoulder, the pendulum has begun to swing back in the positive direction for Wright and this disappointing loss will be spotted as the turning point. We'll find out more on Saturday' Senior Night, but it certainly would be much more important than any regular season loss.
I want to hear from you! Send me any questions, comments or let me know how quickly you would snap to the fetal position if you had to pop your shoulder into socket six times in three months. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
When you check the temperature first thing in the morning and it's 18 degrees, you kind of have an inkling that spring has not yet set in.
When spring football practice begins at 9 a.m. and it's 27 degrees at UC, you find yourself very thankful for the Sheakley Athletics Center. Despite some early March sun, the Bearcats are often able to get more done inside when it's below 40 outside.
Sure, football is played in the elements, but the upside for the southern schools has always been weather more conducive to getting a lot of work in. Now, if there's rain, sleet, snow or just general all-around shivering weather, UC is able to go inside and be productive.
Everyone's happy. Including the media who celebrates such luxury in pictures: